November 18, 2014

Medicine Hat Food Security

We really live in an amazing area. Medicine Hat and the surrounding communities have some of the most giving people I have ever encountered. The number of people that went out of their way to help others during the flood(s), the great show of kindness on RAKday, the number of giving groups, clubs, and charities in our area... we have good people in our midst.
And now, Medicine Hat is well on its way to become the first municipality in Canada to end homelessness.

Homelessness is no joke and it affects us all in one way or another. Homelessness can mean a death sentence once the temperature turns cold. So to read that our community is on top of it. That we will end it for our area, well I don't know about you, but that impresses me to no end.

Another serious issue, food security, is one that seems to be growing not only in Medicine Hat but all across the country.

We have it pretty good here in Medicine Hat when it comes to food.
We have greenhouses in the city and in Redcliff that provides fresh, nutritious, inexpensive produce that hasn't sat on a truck for three days.
We have a great growing season and both Medicine Hat and Redcliff provide areas for community gardens.
Our Community Food Connections Association keeps it all organized as well as providing CSA food boxes, and food-related workshops and tours.
We have a weekly farmer's market through the summer and fall and another every Thursday night at Medalta where we can buy local veggies, fruits and meats.
Last night the City Council passed a pilot project for urban chickens (yay!).
We have a food bank and many local businesses, churches, clubs, and charity groups run "soup kitchens" or offer brown bag lunches.

But we still have a lot of people that go to bed with an empty feeling in their stomach and many children who are sitting in class hungry. The numbers of people needing assistance is not going down.

And this brings me to food forests and other urban food systems.

Our city is in a perfect location to grow food within the city. Medicine Hat already uses many types of plants for placement in parks and urban beautification (think of the trees along streets or flowers in the park planters and raised beds).
It shouldn't cost any more to plant an apple tree instead of an ornamental tree with berries. Or to plant a couple of strawberry plants or two among the flowers instead of zinnia or marigold. Obviously location is important. I don't think anyone wants to eat apples from a parking lot, where the tree is surrounded by exhaust all day. But how about in quiet neighborhoods, parks and school yards.

These are simple things that can be done to increase the food production for our community.
On the other end of the scale, an entire food forest could be designed and planted. Although it would take some planning, and a little care at the start, a food forest eventually matures and requires no more care than any other forest... but it provides food. For a long, long time.
We already have park and trails. A Food Forest would be an extension of the trail system, but you could collect food as you walk. You might be able to gather a bag of apples, a basket of plums, greens for your salad and berries for dessert later.

mmmmm... Plums!

Imagine taking your children or grandchildren out for a walk. As they get close to the food they like, they run ahead a bit, pointing out the food they can take home. They are excited. "Look, there's one gramma, and there's one, and over there! Look papa!"

A Food Forest in New Zealand

A food forest can mean that someone struggling financially has a piece of fruit or a salad to eat with lunch. It means they can use their produce money to buy something else they need. It provides nutritious, accessible food.

And Everything tastes better when it ripens as it should, instead of while traveling by truck in a box. On this point, everyone wins.

Because we design this forest from scratch, plants are chosen that will produce food or that will support the food producers. We can use hardy varieties proven for our climate for increased success and bountiful harvests. We use multiple types of plants to imitate a functioning forest.

An example of an Educational Food Forest.

And it truly can be a Community Project.

The land/location would need to be donated, or provided by the city.
It would need to be managed in cooperation with the city.
The size and design would be customized for our city and community needs.
Hatters and local community members with fruit trees and other edible perennials in their yard could offer a cutting of their tree. The city's horticulturist could root it for transplant or graft it to a rootstock. Using local varieties increases the chances of success. Local businesses and individuals could donate a perennial plant or tree to contribute.
Elementary schools are already including gardens in youth education. Young classes of students could visit the forest to learn about plant relationships, and to plant some annuals (like squash or tomatoes) that can be harvested later in the year. These children take their knowledge and enthusiasm home to share with their parents.
High schools could use the forests and the produce to teach about food production and preserving and to support home ec/cooking.
I'm sure the college could find a use for this type of project.
Local charity groups could schedule days to collect food for the food bank or to run workshops for cooking or canning.
Everyone gets to enjoy the paths and trails through the forest and of course, the quality food.

And not only the people benefit. The little bit that doesn't get used can be eaten by wildlife. This supports the wonderful diversity of life in our area. It encourages pollinators, including bees, which helps everyone. Within the forest, threatened and rare native plants can be included to encourage diversity and preservation of threatened plant species.

So! All this to say, I'm very curious if there are other people in this area that would like to see edible plants implemented in city designs and if anyone would like a food forest in Medicine Hat.

Please! leave a comment with your opinion. Share this with other people. And join us on facebook for further conversation and more information.

For more information on food forests, see the following links.

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